MOSCOW — The Soviet government has stopped jamming Voice of America radio broadcasts to this country, a U.S. official said Monday.
Embassy spokesman Jaroslav Verner said it was the first time since August, 1980, that the Soviets had not interfered with the Voice's broadcasts beamed at the Soviet Union. He said he could offer no explanation for what appeared to be a sudden change of policy in Moscow.
In Washington, Charles Z. Wick, director of the U.S. Information Agency, which operates the Voice, hailed the move but said "it is only a beginning."
"We hope that the Soviet decision on VOA signals a sincere initiative to open up their closed society and to end restrictions on the free flow of information," he said.
Wick called for full Soviet compliance with the 1975 Helsinki accords, which banned the jamming of foreign radio stations.
There was no official comment from the Soviet Union on ending the jamming, but Wick said the Soviets "have signaled for some time they were considering it." He said he does not know how long the new policy would last.
The end of interference with VOA broadcasts, however, has led to increased jamming of two other U.S. stations, Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, according to Malcolm S. Forbes Jr., chairman of the Board for International Broadcasting, which oversees the radios.
"At least two of the Soviet jammers previously aimed at VOA have been redirected against Radio Free Europe," Forbes said in a statement in Washington.
Western sources in Moscow suggested that the halt in jamming was a manifestation of Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev's policy of glasnost, or openness. Forbes said the U.S. broadcasters "welcome the fact that the U.S.S.R. is no longer jamming the VOA," but he added that "a more convincing demonstration . . . would be a Soviet decision to cease all jamming."
The Soviets have never attempted to jam the Voice of America's English-language broadcasts, which can be received in the Soviet Union on shortwave frequencies. But the Voice also broadcasts news and feature programs in Russian and eight other languages spoken by ethnic groups in the Soviet Union, and it is these that have been jammed.
In addition to Russian, the Voice broadcasts in Lithuanian, Latvian, Estonian, Ukrainian, Armenian, Azerbaijani, Georgian and Uzbek.
The British Broadcasting Corp. also beams Russian-language news programs at the Soviet Union. Jamming of these was stopped in January.
U.S. officials discounted suggestions that the halt in the jamming of Voice of America programs might last only a day or two, while electronic equipment was being repaired.
"They have too much equipment for it all to be shut down for maintenance at one time," a Western source said.
Although jamming of most Western broadcasts has been relaxed at various times, there has been no letup on Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, which Forbes said are the targets of more than 70% of Soviet jamming efforts. Unlike the Voice, which undertakes to tell the American story to the world, the other two services try to provide people behind the Iron Curtain with uncensored news of their home areas.
Radio Liberty beams its programs to the Soviet Union, while Radio Free Europe broadcasts to the Kremlin's allies in East Europe.
Forbes said that when Moscow stopped jamming BBC broadcasts in January, it turned both the jamming transmitters it had used against the BBC to intensifying interference with the Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty frequencies. The Soviet Union also continues to jam two other services, West Germany's Deutsche Welle and Israel's Kol Israel, he said.
"Jamming of international radio broadcasts is a violation of international law and of several treaties to which the Soviet Union is a signatory," Forbes said. "The BBC has estimated that jamming cost the Soviet Union up to $1.2 billion per year--several times the combined budgets of all Western broadcasters. We urge the Soviet leadership to cease this illegal activity."
Times staff writer Don Irwin in Washington contributed to this report.